Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Hymn

To the tune of LSB 822 - Alleluia! Let Praises Ring

The Saints sing out with one accord
Praises to our triumphant Lord
Who has won their salvation.
They behold now Christ, the Slain Lamb
Victorious, at God's right Hand
Who reigns in exultation.
Sing out, call out
Christ restoring
Man to glory
with His passion,
He has won now for us heaven.

We here on earth join in their song
we add our voice to their throng
For Christ is too our Savior
What they see now before their Lord
Is our sure great promised reward,
We are by Christ delivered
From sin and death
His blood pouring
life restoring
wondrous healing
by His death we have been given.

Until that day when with the Lord
We dine at that celestial board
Let us receive His Supper
for the forgiveness of all sin
*and the strengthening of faith in*
Christ, who has o'er death conquered.
He shall keep us
Til that day when
then in heaven
face to face now
with His saints we feast forever.

* that line might be better "and the strength'ning of our faith in" -- I don't know how well it would be sung.

Is the Greek the NIV?

I have been doing a touch of thinking, for a comment has me. . . slightly disturbed. In the comments on here concerning James the brother of Jesus it was noted that aramaic had no word for cousin, so the idea of calling James Jesus' brother could basically be meant to mean cousin.

I am well aware that there are a lot of Aramaic turns of phrase in Scripture - but are we going to say that the Greek is basically a lousy translation? Is the Greek the equivalent of the NIV? I mean, there are translation issues into Greek - but shouldn't we assume that the Words of Scripture are the actual words of Scripture that mean what they ought to mean?

Now, again, I don't think the comment was "insidious" - but doesn't that approach lead to a shift away from what the Word says and rather on to what we think it ought to say, if only Paul was as good at Greek as I am.

The Bane of High Expectations

Why do we so often expect people to be perfect? Why are we so often surprised when difficulties arise and conflict (over the littlest thing) arises? Why do we expect people to be masters of all wisdom and knowledge?

I find that most of the frustration that comes in our lives comes when we look at another person and think, "Come on, they know better than that!" Of course, in reality, this is just being egotistical. It is egotistical because, in reality, aren't we more upset that we are inconvenienced rather than that people we know and care about are upset, are in a difficult time (even if it is of their own devising). It is egotistical because we will look down upon people in their folly. . . but the things that we get worked up about, well, those are the "really" important things.

Why do we set expectations for others when we know that we ourselves fail so often? Perhaps it is precisely because we have lulled ourselves into forgetting our failures. Perhaps it is because we will ignore the Law when it hits too close to home.

My advice - you cannot control the actions of others - but when others frustrate you, examine yourself, confess your own sin, and delight again in forgiveness.

Now, if only I were perfect in doing this myself!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

non-theological post.

First of all, if you haven't watched "Firefly" - go do so.

Then, you will understand the joy of this:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Yesterday's Sermon

Reformation Sunday – October 25th, 2009 – John 8:31-36

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Once again, that time of the year has come that is near and dear to us Lutherans, the time to observe the festival of the Reformation. It was on Reformation Day, October 31st, 1517, coming up on 492 years ago, that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses concerning the abuses of the sales of indulgences, calling the Church of Rome to repentance. It is the date that most people associate with the start of the Reformation of the Church. However, if we turn this day into a mere celebration of history, a mere looking back to the past, we miss the point of all that Luther taught – for the Reformation was not just a one time thing – rather, the Church is always in need of Reform – we here in the Church are always in need of Reform. We are always going to have to check ourselves, our thoughts, our deeds, on the basis of the Holy Scriptures, and we are always going to have to strive to place ourselves in alignment with them. We will always need Reform.

Christ tells us why in our Gospel passage today. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered Him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” So here is the set up. Jesus is talking to some people, people whom we are told actually believe in Him, believe that Jesus is the Messiah. And Jesus says something very simple, very straightforward – if you abide in God’s Word, you will know the truth, and that truth will set you free. And these people who hear Jesus say this are just incensed. They are offended! How can you say such things! We’ve always been free! Do you hear the pride and arrogance there in their response? We’re the children of Abraham, we’ve always been free! How dare you say that there is something in us that is lacking!

And here’s the sad part. These people were Jews, they were people who observed the Passover. And what was Passover – the celebration of when God delivered the children of Abraham from what? From slavery in Egypt. This is what God does, always – He sees His people in bondage and He delivers them. That is what they knew God to do – and yet, for some strange reason, these people have become so prideful that they don’t even understand when Jesus speaks to them in a way that should be most familiar – Oh yes, we understand! When we abide in Your Word, we are free and delivered, for that is what God always does. It slides right on by them.

So then, what of us? Can we here in this place become prideful and secure in who we are? Of course we can. After all, we’re Lutherans, we have the right doctrine. We cast off the yoke of Rome almost 500 years ago, we’ve never been a slave to anyone! Why, we’ve avoided all those silly false doctrines and heresies that come down the pike – in fact, we here are even the good Lutherans, not like those silly, crazy American, ELCA Lutherans. We’re the good Church – we’re the good congregation! Of course, those words I just spoke were awfully general, weren’t they? Any good old Missouri Synod congregation could say that in its pride. But what about us here, we here in this room? Are we prideful? Do we just know that we are better than. . . well, I’m not going to name names. Do we have people whom we look down with scorn upon? Do we rest happily on how we are such wonderful people who care so greatly for our church, are we content how we survived the battles of ages past, while ignoring the present struggles we face?

Our Lord lays us open. Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Well, what about now? Any of you sinned lately? Of course you have. And this is the danger, this is the way in which Satan comes in. Satan pats us on the back with how wonderful we are, and we become content with ourselves. And then pride kicks in, and we start to assume that what we are doing is right, that it is enough, that everything is fine. And then, we even become a little bit lazy, a little bit lax. We stop doing things like we used to, stop giving like we used to, stop participating like we used to – we slide away, make a few excuses that we wouldn’t have made a few months ago, then we give up a little bit more, then a little bit more – and all the while just so certain that we are doing just fine. And we become once again slaves to sin. We become those who no longer look to see how we can show love to the neighbor, we become those who no longer hunger and thirst for righteousness, we become those who no longer make this house, this place, hearing God’s Word here, supporting and defending this place their first priority – to say nothing of bringing our friends and neighbors here. We tell ourselves that we’ve done that in the past, that we’ve done our share – and we turn in on ourselves, focus upon what we would want rather than focusing upon the Word of God – and we become happily enslaved to sin, to sorrow, to misery. Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.

And I say this to you this morning, dear friends, not as one who is immune, not as one who is high and mighty and simply wagging a finger. I don’t want you to think that Pastor Brown is going off on some holier-than-thou kick. Rather this. This is simply how Satan attacks Christians. Satan is the great enslaver, the great ensnarer – and he wants each of us here to stop looking at God’s Word, stop placing ourselves under God’s Word – Satan wants us to be confident in and of ourselves, so confident that we end up ignoring God – that even if we come to this place we just go through the motions, to where we no longer actually listen to the Word, no longer examine ourselves, no longer strive to be better, no longer desire to be more and more Christ-like tomorrow than we are today. I see it in myself, and I see it in my congregation. It is just what the old evil foe does – it is how he means each of us deadly woe.

We are in need of Reform – we are in need of being brought back to the Word, being called to repentance from our sin – and I’m not speaking just today of a spiffy, special service, or something unique or a one-time thing. No, today on Reformation day, we remember that we sinful human beings, as long as we live in this world, are going to be in need of reform – for Satan constantly seeks to corrupt and deform us. We constantly need to live lives of repentance, where we struggle against any and all sin which creeps there in. We need to constantly be on guard against the ways Satan tries to bind us with all the various temptations that appeal to us, against the ways Satan strives to make us arrogant and prideful and to forget God’s Word.

We are always in need of reform, which is simply another way of saying that we are always in need of Christ, for He alone is the One who can reform us, remake us. “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the Son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” When I speak of a need of reform, I am not simply telling you what you need to do. I am not telling you to pick yourselves up by your own bootstraps or anything like that. In fact, I’m saying the opposite. Consider all your vaunted strength and power and see how it falls flat. What did we just sing - With might of ours could naught be done – soon were our loss effected. A reform, a change in our life does not come about by the strength of our convictions or a display of willpower. Rather this. If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Or “but for us fights the valiant One, whom God Himself elected.” Or how about what we just confessed, that Christ Jesus “has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.” You see dear friends, reformation is never about us. The reformation was not about the wisdom or courage of Martin Luther; reform in our own life isn’t about our diligence. Reformation is about Christ Jesus – for it is Christ Jesus who sets us free, it is Christ Jesus who bursts the shackles of sin, who wins us our freedom. It is Christ Jesus who goes to the Cross and suffers and dies for our sins and wins us salvation. And what of the times when we in our pride, in our arrogance, forget that it is about Christ? What about the times when we put our plans and wants ahead of God? What of the times when we would enslave ourselves to sin? “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples.” When those times happen, when we have been suckered by Satan into slipping away from the Word, what does God do? He speaks His Word to us again, He calls out to us, He speaks His Word of Law to show us our sin, and then He says, “Behold, I have dealt with your sin by My death upon the Cross.” And He makes us to abide in His Word – He reforms us, makes us to be people who are His disciples – He makes us to know the truth – not just the truth of our sinfulness, not just the truth of His forgiveness – but the Word of God makes us to know Christ Jesus, makes us to know Him who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Christ brings us unto Himself, brings us into relationship with Himself. He baptizes us with water and His Word, claiming us unto Himself. He brings us His own Body and Blood in the Supper; He abides with us here in His Supper so that we might always abide in Him, in His Word. Christ acts. The same God who died for our sin brings His Word to us today, so that we might be kept steadfast in that Word, that we might know Him, and that we might delight in the freedom He has won for us from our sin.

And so dear friends, today we celebrate the Reformation – not just the reformation of the Church some 500 years ago, but indeed, our Reformation – that even as we struggle against sin, even as we often fail to struggle against sin as we ought, that Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior comes to us again and again through His Word and He reforms us –He sets us free from sin – He calls us to repentance and then gives us not only forgiveness but His own strength in order to go forth and show His love, speak His peace and word. Christ Jesus has set you free, you are free indeed – delight in, cherish, and enjoy His freedom. We are new creations in Him, delivered from sin unto salvation and eternal life all because of Christ Jesus. This is the heart of the Reformation. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tradition and its decay

Tomorrow is the feast of St. James. As I don't come into the office on Fridays, I did the reading from the Treasury of Daily Prayer for Friday this morning as well. It noted that some modern folks today think that James was the biological brother (or half-brother, to be technical) of Jesus. Paul calls him the brother of our Lord in Galatians 1:19 (ton adelpon - the brother).

Now, the Treasury also notes that in the Early Church there was the tradition that James was actually just a kinsman, perhaps a cousin, who was perhaps even raised with Jesus, but not a biological relative.

I am somewhat dubious of this tradition, in spite of its antiquity, and here is why.

When we think back to a tradition we can see arising in, say, the year 300, we think, "Wow, this is incredibly old." However, I would say that it is also nearly 240 years after the writing of Scripture.

To put that time span in perspective - consider how we as Americans treat the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. Have not traditions about these arisen that sort of directly contradict their intention? I worry about the creation of or distortion of tradition within the Christian faith as well. . . especially as we see over and over in the Old Testament that it doesn't take long for people to start wandering off or following cleverly devised myths.

This is not to say that believing that James is a cousin is impious. . . but that isn't how the Scriptures describe him. And while there may have been wonderful, pious reasons for asserting that adelphon really meant merely cousin a few years down the road. . . is your pious story the way things are?

The changes via "interpretation and precedent" to the Constitution are not necessarily insidious - they were done not by cackling fiends but by people who thought they were doing something good. But things got changed. Likewise, I think sometimes with our own pious traditions the same things may have occurred.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

St. Luke

St. Luke’s Day – October 18th, 2009 – Luke 10:1-9 (and other verses)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Today is St. Luke’s Day, October 18th, the day when the Church commemorates this evangelist, this servant of Christ, who was the human author by which our Lord gave to us the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts – around a quarter of the entire New Testament. And yet, when we hear our Gospel lesson for this day, Luke isn’t mentioned once. There is no moment of glorifying Luke there – he may have been one of the 72, he may not even have been – we do not know. But, as the rest of his Gospel, this lesson is not about Luke, but rather it is about Christ Jesus. And when we look at this text, and think about how it relates to everything Luke writes, we will see a contrast between two things. On the one hand, we can consider our desires, our wants, and on the other hand, we behold what it is that Christ wants. Indeed, the entirety of the Luke’s Gospel shows us what it is our Lord desires. Let us examine the text, and compare.

This text is the sending out of the 72, and it is a striking text. Our Lord sends out these men in pairs, two by two, and He says to them, “Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals.” Don’t take provisions, don’t take a spare change of clothes, don’t take your platinum card or anything else like that. Simply go – and what will you eat, well. You’ll go to houses, and whatever they provide, that’s what you’ll eat. “Remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide.” Simply go and receive what you are given. Now, does this sound like a good, pleasant idea to any of us? Would any of us consider taking a trip in this fashion? I mean, I’ve taken cheap trips – in college my friends and I did a 2 and a half week road trip where we bounced from family member to family member for nearly 6000 miles – but we at least told grandma we were coming first. But this is beyond that – no backup cash, no going to family even – headed out amongst complete strangers – relying simply upon their good will to provide. And indeed, that seems to be a sketchy proposition – as our Lord had said earlier, “Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.” Not exact words to give me security. I cannot quite expect the wolves to show wonderful hospitality to the lambs.

Do you see how odd this would have sounded, how it would have completely cut against the grain of what the disciples, of what any of us would want? We want security, we want to know there will be food on our plate. And even more and beyond that. We don’t just want a house – we are Americans, we want a better house. We don’t just want shelter, that house had better have a nice TV and a good stereo in it too. The table better not just have food, but that food had better be good – there had better be cake and we had better be eating it too. When it comes to life, we want the respect of our community – not their scorn. When it comes to business, we want great growth and success and bumper crops every year. We want safety and security – all our ducks lined up in a row. We want. We want mammon, the things of this life – not even just comfort, but luxury and vanity.

Do you see how what our Lord instructs these people to do just completely cuts across the grain of human nature – how it is so opposite of what we as sinful human beings want? This week, which did you think more about – your money, your stuff – or God. Were you more concerned with filling your belly than with loving God with all your heart and with all your mind? The simple fact is we are so easily distracted by the things of this life, by the world and it’s vaunted, vain pleasures. Christ, in this text, directs our eyes away from this.

So why? What does Christ want? What is Christ’s purpose? Is it merely a purpose of the Law – is this simply instruction – look I am going to force your eyes off of your stomach, oh 72. Well, we can see that in there. This text does serve as a reminder of God’s providential care. While they are on the road, all 72 are cared for. In verse 17 we hear, “The 72 returned with joy”. It’s not as though Jesus sent out 72, but most of them starved to death and then He looks up and says, “Oh look, now I have 12 disciples, hey guys, you get to be the Apostles!” No! They all make it back, and things are even good, enjoyable for them. They are amazed at all that they see God provide, indeed, that they even can cast out demons on this trip. But our Lord says to them, verse 20 – “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Our Lord doesn’t focus on their physical care, on the “spiritual powers” they get to exercise, the drastic demonstrations of the power of their faith.

No, the highlight for Christ is salvation. You see dear friends, that is what Christ Jesus our Lord wants, that is His focus – the salvation of people, the redemption of sinners. Christ’s concern is not that your faith is awesome, but rather that you are brought to faith and kept secure in that faith so that you might rest assured of your salvation in His name. And not just you, but also for your neighbor. Listen again to our Lord’s Words – “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” His harvest. That’s Christ’s focus. Look, there are more and more people who need to hear, who need to be brought to faith by the power of the Word. You 72 are just tools, instruments to bring this about – get on out there. Don’t worry about stuff, just get out there! The focus is upon others, is upon the neighbor, is upon bringing other people into salvation, into the knowledge of God and His redemption. This is why we pray for workers. This is why it is good for us to pray for Jay – not merely because we like Jay and want him to have personal fulfillment in “his ministry” – blah, who cares about that? What’s important is the harvest, the people who will hear the word of God through him – the harvest is waiting, send Jay and plenty more so that others might be saved! The focus is upon the harvest – upon those the 72 will preach to as they are scattered amongst the wolves, the focus is upon the folks whom will hear the Word even to this day – to you here and indeed those out there who as of yet have not heard – this is Christ’s focus.

It is a focus we see throughout the Gospel of Luke. Luke’s Gospel is filled with Christ preaching, is it not? Over and over we see our Lord going from place to place, preaching and teaching. Even before He is old enough to speak, the Angels must come out and preach to shepherds in the field. This Gospel shows us what Christ preaches, what He does, who He is – namely that He is God Almighty. And then, there is it’s culmination – the Crucifixion of our Lord. What does Christ Jesus want – what is His desire? To seek and save the lost – and there is no greater evidence of this truth then the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is our Lord’s focus, our Lord’s goal – to win for us poor sinners salvation by His death and resurrection – to give that salvation unto us by the power of His Word. Indeed, consider what He says just before He ascends for Luke records for us His Words – “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His Name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” That is the focus of our Lord.

And so, Luke writes. He writes of what Christ Jesus does Himself in the Gospel of Luke. Then Luke writes the book of Acts, and what does the book of Acts show? It shows repentance and forgiveness of sins being proclaimed in Christ’s name, starting in Jerusalem and spreading to the nations. Luke provides a faithful witness to this – but even more than that. Consider, dear friends, that through this Gospel written by our dear brother in the faith Luke, Christ’s desire for repentance and forgiveness to be proclaimed – a desire shown by sending out the 72, a desire shown upon the Cross – is brought to fulfillment even here and now, this day, this place. We learn from this Gospel that we are to repent, that we are to flee from our sinful desires, that we are to beat them down. We learn from this Gospel to behold the wondrous love of our Savior – of His great love for us. But indeed, more than that, we also see from the pen of Luke the great ways in which we ourselves receive that Love directly applied to us in our own lives. Consider Acts 8:36 – Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch – where the Eunuch says, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being Baptized!” Or the Words of Peter on Pentecost – Acts 2:38-39 – “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children.” This promise is for us, for our children – we too have received it – just as we have learned from Luke – we have received the Kingdom of God like little children (that’s Luke 17). We have the wondrous gift of Baptism.

And indeed, Luke tells us of another great and wondrous gift from our Lord unto us – And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them saying, ‘This is My Body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new testament in my blood.” Indeed, this has been given even unto you, and this day – even here and now, in but a few moments, you here in this place, so many miles away from Jerusalem, separated by vast years – you will receive from our Lord His own Body and Blood – given for you, poured out for you. Behold how diligently our Lord desires you to receive His forgiveness, how often and frequently He reaches out to you to bless you, to see that you know that your names are written in Heaven, to keep you in the faith so that you never depart from Him.

This is what our brother Luke shows you even today – How your Lord loves you with such wonderful and unabashed love, that His focus is upon you and upon your salvation, and that He will have His Name proclaimed to you so that He might claim you as His own. Thus we are right to thank God for His servant Luke, who so wondrously shows us the heart of God in God’s love for us. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Friday, October 16, 2009

An "unromantic" Romantic Love

I will admit freely that on many things, I am a romantic. I enjoy all the stupid little things associated with romance - letters, sharing a soda, writing poems - all the like. All the little acts of courtship, all the silly little demonstrations of care.

That being said, I have come to have disdain for the phrase "I fell in love" (even though the song Fell In Love with a Girl by the White Stripes is one of the best songs of the decade). The reason why is that the idea of "falling" is completely passive -- and yet, this really is the "highest" description of romantic love.

Think about it - the "how did you meet stories" are expected to end, "and that's when we fell in love. . ."

Yet consider this - that Love is the Greatest Commandment - be it loving God or loving your neighbor. It is an act, a use of your will to have you act for another's benefit. All the silly old romantic things are active - you write a letter (and then the other must act as well, not even having time for a fast train, because "my baby, she wrote me a letter"). You go out on a date. You get a soda together.

To love, even in the romantic sense, is to act for the benefit of your neighbor. . . it's not a feeling that you fall into. Indeed, your actions of love ought remain the same, when the feeling is not that of "oh, they make me have butterflies in the stomach" - but even exasperation.

Romantic love is active - it is care and sacrifice. Too often, though, we will make it passive and internalized - or at best merely reactive (a la The Way You Make Me Feel by Michael Jackson. . . where since you make me feel good, then I will work to buy you thinks)

Love is action. Show love.

Enjoy funny music videos, if you so wish, like:

Good Enough For Now - by Wierd Al, the greatest country song ever written.

Conventional Lover - by Speck, from Rock Band 2, which is the best love song for herds.

Here, There, and Everywhere by the Beatles, which is what my wife and I had our first dance to.

And. . . well, I tried to find the song that Jay Hobson would dance to at his wedding - my wife and I both did. . . but we couldn't find anything. Sorry.

+++++ Edit +++++

My wife gave me a dirty look because of my giving up on Jay's Romantic endeavors. If you have a suggestion, please link to it in the comments.

+++++ Edit 2 +++++

I'm sorry, Jay, doesn't look like anyone else could think of one either.

(grumblegrumblegrumble what was that about the chairs on my front porch grumblegrumblegrumble)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Trinity 18 Sermon

Trinity 18 – October 11th, 2009 – Matthew 22:34-46

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Religious fervor when combined with self-righteousness is a horrid, horrid thing. Should you ever become convinced that you of yourself just know more about God, become convinced that you the master of God’s Word, repent. As Christians, we are always to be humble students, seeking to learn more and more from God’s Word, to ever more and more appreciate its depth. You are not the master of God, but rather God is your Master, and He will continue to instruct you.

It seems the Pharisees had forgotten this point. Jesus had just silenced the Sadducees, a sort of religious party of the day – they had taken on Jesus and he had wiped the floor with them. Then the Pharisees, who loved the law, who loved being good, being the best of the best when it came to being a Jew – they figured they would ask Jesus a real humdinger – show Him that they knew their Scripture. And so – “And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test Him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’” So, here is the test. Which is the great commandment? Trap question. It would be like me asking, “Which is the greater Sacrament – Baptism or the Lord’s Supper”. They are both wonderful gifts of God – why would you ever pit them against each other? You pick one, and people can complain that you didn’t pick the other.

But Jesus doesn’t just pick one commandment – note what He says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your sol and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” All Jesus does here is quote Moses. The first part is a quote straight from Deuteronomy 6, the second is right from Leviticus. This is how Moses sums up the Law – Love God. That’s the great commandment. But this second one, love your neighbor, is like the first, so like it that they are connected, inseparable – you cannot have one without the other. If you do not love your neighbor you cannot love God. If you love God, you will love the Neighbor God has placed into your life.

Now, Jesus here does again remind us what God’s Law is. Show love. Act in a way that glorifies God and cares for the neighbor. Simple as that. Hard as that. Do not think that the command to love God and love your neighbor is an easy thing – to us sinful folk it is harsh and burdensome and distasteful. When things in our lives don’t go our way, we would much rather blame God than praise Him. When people are cruel to us, we would much rather be cruel to them than show them love. And we would certainly rather make people like us, rather than showing the aptly named “tough love” that they often need. If you are you to love God, it means you can’t blame Him anymore for your problems, but rather you must admit that they are simply the consequences of living in a sinful world. If you are to love your neighbor, you must put their interests ahead of your own.

Again, this is a simple idea, and even preaching this, I know it sounds like I’m simply repeating myself – show love, show love, show love. It seems like this has been the refrain for the past two months. But, that’s part of the point. God’s law, God’s command is always to love – and never to stop. The Law is unrelenting, and it always demands more and more – it is repetitive –and each time we look at the Law it will demand more and more of us. And while it is good to pause and consider our lives and to see how we fall short – for whenever we hear God’s Law, whenever we hear “love your neighbor” each and every one of us here should say, “Ugh, I haven’t done that as well as I ought” – and each and every one of us must strive to do better. . . if we do nothing but focus on the Law it just wears us down, beats us down. We don’t do the Law. There are times we don’t want to take the time to pray – we’d rather do something else – we might even excuse ourselves and say, “I’m too busy.” There are times we’d rather blow off our neighbor, we have “other things to do.” And if we constantly are put under the harsh, examining light of the law, it will wear us down – if a coach were to make his team practice 20 hours a day, they’d have no strength or energy for the actual game. The Law wears us down. Or, even worse, we could simply end up playing pretend, not really paying attention to it and acting as though we do – a false, hypocritical approach. “Oh yes, I’m a good Christian,” while we despise and ignore the Word and scorn our neighbor. Both of these, both of these are deadly and horrid, and if we focus simply upon God’s Law, we will break, either by being worn out or by becoming holier-than-thou hypocrites.

The Pharisees were in love with the Law – and they were happily trying to break Jesus with it while they played pretend with it. It happens. It’s the cheap, easy way. If I look down on others, I feel better about myself. But note what Christ Jesus does – He doesn’t leave these Pharisees to stew over the Law – but rather, He moves to the Gospel. He asks them a question. “’What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” Note how Jesus changes the focus off of the Law, off of what we are to do, and rather onto God, onto Christ. When the Law has shown us our sin and our lack, Christ will pull our eyes away from the Law and unto Himself, will reveal the mystery of the ages unto us. “They said to Him, ‘The Son of David.’ He said to them, ‘How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls Him Lord saying “’The Lord said to my LORD, sit at My right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ If then David calls Him LORD, how is He his Son?’” Do you see what Jesus says, what Jesus teaches here? How is David’s Son also David’s Lord? Because Christ Jesus, a descendant of David through His mother Mary, legally in the line of David by His adoptive father Joseph, is in fact God, is in fact LORD. The thrust, the focus of the Scriptures is that while we have fallen, while we cannot uphold and maintain the Law of God – God Himself will act for us, God Himself will provide the victory over sin for us – God Himself will fulfill all righteousness and win us salvation, giving us resurrection and eternal life in His Name, freeing us from the taint of sin so that in eternity the Law will no longer be a burden unto us. This is what Christ Jesus, the very Son of God does by His life, death, and resurrection. That Law that threatens to crush us, He takes up in our stead – and in so doing restores man to God. Christ frees us from sin, and being freed from sin, the Law ceases to be a burden. Now, in this life, we see this only in part – for we still keep on sinning, so we keep feeling the weight of the Law – but we also receive Christ’s forgiveness freeing us from the burden of guilt. In the life to come – then, then we will see this all so clearly and be completely free of all this angst and worry that comes with sin, for our sin will well and thoroughly be no more.

What our Lord says here is the cause of utter joy and celebration – the mystery, the wonder; that God Himself would come down from heaven and be our Savior is the great joy of all time. Yet we have another warning come up again in Scripture – “And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask Him anymore questions.” Why couldn’t the Pharisees “answer” Him? Why couldn’t they respond? It wasn’t because they didn’t know what Jesus was saying here – they knew that He was claiming to be God and Messiah. But rather this – they couldn’t give an answer that showed that they were their own saviors. You see, that is what the Pharisees had been trying to do in the first place – claim top billing – claim that they were the good and holy ones who were the most important. But that isn’t what Scripture shows us – we are not the heroes of Scripture – Christ is. The Christian life is not a tale of our heroic triumphs due to our strength and power – but it is a life where we see ever more and more that while we are weak He is strong – that Christ Jesus is our strength, our tower.

Dear friends, if you try to make the Christian faith be about you, about your actions – if you try to make yourself the hero of the story, you simply end up ignoring God’s Word and ignoring Christ. The hope of the Christian faith isn’t a hope that we can have more success, isn’t that we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and conquer all, isn’t that we will have all that we want or desire if we just are good enough people. Those are all false hopes whispered in the ears of false prophets by Satan. Those are the same temptations that felled Adam and Eve in the garden when they thought they would make a better world by eating the fruit. Rather this – the Christian hope that we share is brutally honest – shows that we are horrid sinners who so often fail – yet God in His wondrous love and mercy to us wins for us salvation – that God’s love for us is so great that even our wretched stupidity and vileness cannot destroy it – and that God wills us to be saved. The ugliness of our self is overshadowed by the beauty of God Himself, and He says, “I shall call you forth on the last day, and when you open your eyes then, you will be as wondrous and beautiful as I am, for I have died for you, I have risen for you, I have baptized you and given you My own precious Body and Blood.”

This is the teaching of Scripture. This is what our Lord strives to point out over and over – that we are to turn away from sin, turn away from trust in ourselves – that we are to repent. And rather this – we behold all that Christ Jesus has done for us. As Paul says, we have been enriched by Him, and He will sustain us by His Word of salvation and life even unto the Last Day, all thanks and glory be unto Him. In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost +

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Distancing of Pastoral Care

So, sitting in my office this morning, I opened my e-mail. It was vastly fulled of junk mail advertising all sorts of books and programs that I could send to my members (or send my members to) - things answering all sorts of questions.

And I thought about it for a bit. What does this say about the expectations of pastoral care? Do people think that they can come and spend time with their pastor on issues that are near and dear to them, or do they think of him as too busy - maybe at best he can sling a book my way? Or even as Pastors - how quick can we be to substitute a book or pamphlet for direct conversation and care?

Is there a distancing going on as regards pastoral care? Are we looking for more and more things that we can just pass off on our members? Rather than teaching about pray via example and blunt teaching -- here's a prayer journal, go do it yourself. Rather than teaching about stewardship -- here, listen to this speaker. Instead of speaking the couple in pre-marriage like they are specific people -- here, let's listen to this tape.

It all seems dreadfully impersonal.

Of course, I hate using pre-written bible studies because I think they seem dreadfully impersonal. (Okay, this is a nice question here in this study, but what does it have to do with these people here -- I mean, yes, it can be hard balancing a family and career, but the youngest gal here is 73, why am I asking them this question?)

John says in his first Epistle that "Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is." There is that face to face aspect of the Christian relationship with God that we look forward towards. We who hold Christ's Office and act in His stead likewise ought remember that our actions should have some of that face to face character.


Which I write on a blog, to be read even by people who have never seen me face to face.

Wretch that I am, who will save me from not only this body, but this age and world, of death?

Monday, October 5, 2009

A bit of musical hypocrisy

I really dislike the song "Imagine" by John Lennon. Horrid false doctrine - the song drives me nuts.

And yet, I really enjoy the song One Vision by Queen, which includes the following lyrics which are just as heretical:

No wrong no right
Im gonna tell you theres no black and no white
No blood no stain
All we need is one world wide vision

Of course, isn't One Vision sort of the LCMS theme. . . not the song or the ideals. . . mostly. . . but the phrase "One Vision"?

It's a good thing I wasn't elected to go to Convention this time around -- I might have yelled "Fried Chicken!" at the top of my voice at the end of the opening presentation.

Humility vs. False-Humility

People often confuse Humility with false humility. The difference between the two is one that is simple - humility never lies - it always speaks the truth.

Let's give an example. A person is asked, "Would you like me to help you with that?" Consider these two responses:

1) "Actually, yes, I could use some help. Thank you."
2) "No, no, no, I can handle it," while the person then really wants help.

The first response is true. It admits one's own lack, own's own need. It accepts and receives love - which is humility.

The second response is a lie. It is proud, it is deceitful, it is false.

Too often with act in this second way and call it humility - we think being humble means you don't let others aid you, we think it means you "try not to be a burden" -- but that is not humility. That's denying reality and spurning love.

Likewise, when our Lord instructs us to be humble, He is not telling us to merely mouth the words, not merely to say, "Oh yes, I'm a poor miserable sinner" while we add in our minds "but not as miserable as that fellow over there." Rather, a call to humility is a call to see yourself truly - one who is hurt and aching and in need.

Beware of false-humility -- rather, in humility receive the good that is given you.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Trinity 17 Sermon

Trinity 17 – October 4th, 2009 – Luke 14:1-11

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
These past few weeks we have discussed the various things that Satan can throw at us in order to make us fearful – violence and illness and poverty and even death. And Christ our Lord resoundingly conquers them all. Our Lord beats down everything Satan can throw our way. And then we get this Gospel text – and it’s not Satan, it’s not the ills of the world opposing Christ today – no, there is a very different set of opponents here today. It’s the Pharisees. So we are going to look at this text, see this interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees, and see what we learn from it for us.

One Sabbath, when He went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching Him carefully. So here’s the set up – Jesus is at dinner with the some Pharisees, who are eyeballing Him something fierce. And it wasn’t just dinner, it was Sabbath dinner, the meal of the day of rest, where no work is to be done. Now again, one of the things we need to unlearn, a habit we need to break ourselves of, is thinking of “those” Pharisees. We hear “Pharisee” and can think villain – but we shouldn’t. We should think of ourselves, the people here. The Pharisees were the “good” Church going folk of the day. As evidence of this – is the idea of Sunday dinner, the dinner together on the day of rest and worship foreign to any of you? Of course not! It’s something we ourselves often do. It is vital, in order to apply this text to ourselves, to remember that when Christ addresses the Pharisees – He’s not addressing people outside the Church, people over there, but this is specifically something that warns us who are within the Church, applies to us who are here on Sunday morning, to us who care about religion. This is a warning about what sort of foolishness we can fall into. And the Pharisees of that day were watching our Lord carefully, but as we shall see, they were not watching to learn.

And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy. This is one of the more humorous verses of Scripture. “Behold” gets used for something that is great and astonishing in Scripture – the angels appear to the Shepherds, and “behold!” Jesus is baptized, and “Behold, a voice from heaven” comes forth. It’s the word that is used to introduce something wondrous – and then we have it used here. Oh look, it’s a man who is sick – well, we all just wonder how he got here – because I know all of us today have random sick people just show up at our fancy Sunday dinners. This is an utter, bald-faced set up. Jesus has been healing people – the Sabbath is a day of rest – so what are you going to do now, Jesus? Are You going to heal on the Sabbath? And Jesus knows it is a set up. Listen.

And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” Jesus responds, Jesus answers them with a question. Is it proper to heal on the Sabbath? You guys are trying to catch me doing something that you can complain about later, right? But they remained silent. Then He took him and healed him and sent him away. Jesus just quickly, sort of matter of factly, heals the guy – and lets the guy go to his own home. Jesus heals him, sends him back to his own family, where I am sure there was much rejoicing. No fuss, no big Technicolor production in front of the Pharisees though – Jesus simply goes about His business and heals the guy. But there’s the rub – He worked on the Sabbath, He worked on the day of rest.

Healing the man, Jesus turns to the Pharisees and says, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things. And then Jesus shows them the folly of their test. Rescuing, saving another was not considered “working” on the Sabbath. If stuff comes up and you need to act now to show love, you show love – but you plan on resting on the Sabbath, but if the house ends up catching on fire, you put out the fire. It’s a foolish question, a foolish test that the Pharisees set up for Jesus, simple and obvious, one they should have known already. I mean, this is the type of thing a Jewish child would have known. So why, why did they play this silly, stupid game? How did they get so confused, so caught up where they ignore and abuse God’s Word? Jesus will show us.

Now He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they chose the places of honor. Just as these Pharisees had been watching Jesus, Jesus had been watching them, and in particular, how they sat. How did they go about getting ready for their meal, how did they arraign the seating? That can be a sticky wicket – if you’ve ever set up seating for a formal meal, well, who goes where, and we can’t put him there, but who gets the head of the table, on and on and on. And Jesus had been watching them, and then He speaks this parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.’” It’s a real possibility. Someone more important, of a higher rank, and then you’ve got to give up your seat, and where just a few moments ago, you had been proud and sitting up front where everyone can you see, you have to get up and walk in front of everybody and just try and find a place to squeeze in somewhere in back. It’s a warning against pride. That’s the problem with these Pharisees today, they were proud. They were arrogant, they were just so sure that they were the bees’ knees. They had elevated themselves as though they were the ones who would be able to test Jesus – and yet, when the tables are turned and He asks them questions, they have nothing to say for themsevles.

This is the danger of which our Lord is warning us today, dear friends. Pride and arrogance kill faith. I mean this simply – pride goeth before the fall. There are two good reasons for this. First of all, if you are prideful, if you are arrogant, you cannot do what God demands in His law. The Law is love God, love your neighbor – to do what God commands you must be focused on other people. If you are proud, if you are smug, you aren’t focused upon your neighbor – you are focused upon yourself, upon showing yourself to be good, to be worthy of the best place. Pride is sinful – and when we give into pride we cannot act as we ought. Think about it – when you’ve been all puffed up, have you ever treated your neighbor as you ought? When you’ve been arrogant, have you shown understanding and compassion? We are called to be agents of service, people who serve in our home, in our community, here at Church, through whatever organization or means available. Pride makes us to forget the neighbor we are to serve, arrogance has us turn our backs upon them. In pride we forget the Word and fall into sin.

But the true danger of pride and arrogance isn’t just that they lead to sin, but that they attack faith directly. What is faith but trusting in Christ Jesus, trusting that He can do for you what you can’t, trusting that Christ Jesus can win you salvation by His death upon the Cross? If you let pride and arrogance run your life, are you going to trust Christ for salvation? If you are prideful, wouldn’t you in your pride try to do things yourself, to fix your own messes, to be your own savior? If you are arrogant, would you even think you need a savior? Do you see how pride and arrogance can be so dangerous, for they completely skew the way in which we see ourselves and our Savior – they make us to be lost.

But Christ Jesus does not want you to be lost – “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.” Consider what our Lord describes here. He describes one who is humble, who does not elevate himself above others, who doesn’t lord things over his neighbor, who doesn’t play that “I’m better than you” game. Rather this, the person comes to the feast, simply glad to be there, and continually receives yet more and more great and wondrous blessings. You are invited, be happy with that, and enjoy whatever invitations you receive.

This is what God does for you. He is the one who elevates you, who calls you into His house and gives you more and more abundantly of His love and mercy and forgiveness. He sees you here, and He calls you friend, calls you to come ever and ever closer to Him. He sees you enter this place in Humility, and He says, “friend, come up here to My table, and receive My Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sin.” This is not something you must earn, something you merit by jumping through hoops – but rather this – God eagerly desires you to have this wonderful gift, and when you are prepared for it by confessing your sins and having faith in the words “Given and shed for you” – He gives gladly.

Consider how our Lord sums up this whole teaching: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.” This is the standard call to repentance and forgiveness. It is like what John says in 1st John – “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” – if we exult ourselves, if we ignore our sin yet cast judgment upon others, we are in fact spurning God, but – “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” But when God beholds us, humbled and brought low by the weight of our sin, He pulls that burden off of us, carries it upon Himself to the cross, and kills it. He beholds us in love and says, “I know you cannot rise on your own – behold, I have risen from the dead, and My life, I give to you.” Consider that by being among the forgiven we will share in the eternal life and resurrection that is Christ’s – is there any more exultation that we could possibly hope for? Most certainly not.

And so my dear friends – be on guard against yourself, lest you in your own pride and arrogance grow to despise your neighbor and the Word of God. Rather this; confess your sins, and in humility approach the God of mercy who is quick to give you life and salvation. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Prepping for the Fall Pastors' Conference

I have the privilege of doing opening devotions on the morning of the 13th and the closing devotions before departure on the 14th at our Fall Pastors' Conference. The main speaker will be Dr. Maxwell, speaking to the ways in which the Early Church approached Evangelism in a unchristian world.

In the closing service, the reading is going to be 1 Peter 4:1-11. I had a page left in my devotional, and so I did what I normally do - I filled it with what I normally do in any bulletin - Words from Luther.

Here are the ones that will be used then:

Words From Luther
Absolute Loyalty to the Word
(From a sermon on 1 Peter 4) It is the duty both of preachers and of hearers first of all and above all things to see to it that they have clear and sure evidence that their doctrine is really the true Word of God, revealed from heaven to the holy, original fathers, the prophets and apostles, and confirmed and commanded to be taught by Christ Himself. For we should by no means ever let doctrine be manhandled according to the pleasure and fancy of the individual who adapts it to human reason and understanding. Nor should we let men toy with Scripture, juggle the Word of God, and make it submit to being explained, twisted, stretched, and revised to suit people or to achieve peace and union; for then there could be no secure or stable foundation upon which consciences might rely.

Without Forgiveness, No Social Life
(From another sermon on 1 Peter 4) The apostles gave such an admonition because they well knew and clearly saw that great weakness and frailty remain among Christians also in their external, social relations. They knew and saw that no one can live so discreetly in his daily associations with people – such purity is found in no home, even between husband and wife – as not at some time or other inadvertently to give offense to someone or move him to anger by his words, gestures, or actions. Just so in the human body one member frequently strikes another, or a person bites his own tongue or scratches himself under his eyes. Now he who in his social relations would be a saint so exacting and obstinate as neither to bear nor overlook any evil word or gesture or any frailty is unfit to be among people, knows nothing of Christian love, and can neither believe the article of the Creed concerning the forgiveness of sins nor practice it in his daily life.